Responding to an offer of “Exposure”

As I outline in Get-it-Done Guy episode 404, being offered “exposure” as compensation is almost always a crass attempt to exploit you. Here’s the letter I sent back the last time someone offered me the opportunity to be exploited. It makes a simple counter-proposal in which you take the risk associated with you doing a bad job, you get paid fairly, and they take the risk if their exposure turns out to be worthless.

It also includes a little hook at the end to make it very clear that the only legitimate reason for rejecting the counter-proposal is if they realize that their exposure is worthless, in which case they’re just being an exploitative hack.

Click here for the Get-it-Done Guy episode: How to Gently Tell Off the People Asking You to Work for Free.

Dear Person,

I understand that you are offering “exposure” as a form of compensation. We both know that my work is valuable. Insert your credentials here. Your reaching out to me shows my work must be worth something to you, otherwise you wouldn’t spend your own valuable time asking for it.

What we don’t know is whether the exposure you are offering is valuable. You are asking me to take the bet that the exposure is worth something. Simply doing a trade puts all the risk on me.

Let’s do it differently. Let’s each bet on the promise we are making.

I’ll bet on the quality of my work. I’ll submit my article. You’ll pay me $X. If the article is not well-written, you will put me through your editorial process or decide not to pay. This puts the responsibility of producing a quality article squarely on me.

We establish exposure metrics, such as click-through rates or page views, in advance. Once my article has been published, we will measure those rates. If we hit the target, then I will return the $X. Your exposure will, indeed, have proved its worth.

Of course, if your exposure does not meet the goals, then you did not deliver, and I keep the cash instead. You’ll also know that the exposure you can provide is not genuine compensation, and you will, of course, be a good person and offer future people more valuable methods of compensation.

Exposure as a currency makes sense if you can guarantee a million eyeballs of a hot, ready-to-click audience that meets my customer demographic. Exposure makes sense if your outlet is such a big name that simply appearing on your site will boost my credibility. But exposure doesn’t make sense if you’re just using that word to justify not paying people who are providing you a valuable product.

Ryan Reynolds gets great exposure when he stars in “Deadpool.” Yet he still gets paid for his work. It was career-making exposure for Jennifer Lawrence to star in “Hunger Games,” yet she was still paid for her work.

Business is based on the fair exchange of value. You solicit and pay for work, and I deliver. We structure the deal so the price represents the value delivered, and we each take on the risk if we don’t uphold our side of the bargain.

Please let me know if you accept the terms I’m proposing. And by the way, I’m 99.9% sure you won’t. And we both know what that means.


Stever Robbins

Get-it-Done Guy resources

Episode 404: A Better Response to Working For Expo…

read time: 3 min